The Last Chase (1981)

The Last Chase Poster

Release Date: April 1981
Starring: Lee Majors, Chris Makepeace, Burgess Meredith, Diane D’Aquila, George Touliatos, Ben Gordon, Alexandra Stewart
Directed by Martyn Burke; Written by C.R. O’Christopher, Roy Moore and Martyn Burke

I’ve always been a fan of dystopian films with classics like Blade Runner, Red Dawn, 12 Monkeys, Escape From New York, The Road Warrior and Children of Men topping my list of favorites.  I’ve enjoyed many other examples of the genre over the years, but when Martyn Burke’s The Last Chase fell on to my cinematic radar recently, my faint memories of this 1981 film may have pre-qualified it for the “guilty pleasure” category.  I’d been a fan of Lee Majors since The Six Million Dollar Man aired on TV in the 70’s, and I remember enjoying The Last Chase enough to watch it repeatedly back when it was in heavy rotation on cable TV, but I knew going into this latest screening that my memory of the film may not live up to the reality of how it would hold up 35 years later.  So I went into The Last Chase for a fun ride and a little nostalgia but surprisingly, despite the film’s age and several dated elements, I found the film very engaging today.

The film begins with a Porsche race car pulling up to a racetrack, out of gas. Former racer Frank Hart (Lee Majors) tries to fill up his car, but the pumps are locked. The track is abandoned save for Fetch, an old track employee, who tells Hart there’s no more gas to be had and other basic supplies are starting to run low. Hart breaks open the pump, siphons out what little gas he can get for his station wagon and tows his racer home, the only driver on the empty highway.  All cars have been made illegal and had to be turned into the government a week earlier. But Hart is in no hurry to obey any orders.

Harts career ended in the 80’s after losing control in a race that led to a fatal accident between two fellow drivers. An epidemic from an unknown source struck the U.S. and Hart’s wife and son succumbed. Field hospitals are overcrowded, oil supplies have been cut off, and Martial Law is in effect to control a population still suffering from the epidemic. But as Hart says in his opening monologue, “those of us that survived learned to cope with changes.”

Twenty years later Hart works as a spokesman pushing propaganda for the mass transit authority of now auto-less Boston, living a quiet life among the obedient workers in a totalitarian system that runs counter to his personal nature and the America he knew. He’s been surveilled by the government for his difficulty adjusting to the new system and is brought in for questioning by local authorities. His non-conformist attitude doesn’t earn him any points with high level bureaucrat Santana (played by Diane D’Aquila) who doesn’t have patience for a free spirit stuck in the old days. His scavenging car parts from confiscation yards and several accrued offenses makes him automatically scheduled for a hearing and possible sentence to a rehabilitation center, the system’s new name for prison. When faced with this threat, Hart coolly replies, “Lady, you’ve too goddamn many laws.”

Adding to Santana’s frustrations, her department’s computer system is hacked by prep school student Ring (played by Chris Makepeace). Ring is also an outsider that has trouble conforming to the social hierarchy of his school. He is ostracized and bullied by his fellow students but gets even by using his expertise in chemistry to set off homemade explosives on campus. When he’s not causing mayhem on campus, he sneaks away to a computer he has hidden in the attic of his dorm to hack into the government grid.

Back home, as Hart replays the video of his racing accident just to see a clip of his late wife, a broadcast from Radio Free California (an independent “free” territory) breaks into the TV feed, telling citizens that the residents of California have “returned to the land” and to their machines to escape from the oppressive regime that now controls America. This inspires Hart to break out the race car that’s been buried in pieces under his garage, working at the transportation authority by day and assembling it at night with one week to go before his trial.

Fed up with the propaganda he’s been forced to feed young audiences (“like a reformed sinner preaching to the congregation”) and the system that put him there, Hart turns tide during a speech to a group of prep school students and extols the virtues of cars, freedom and private ownership. His impromptu speech catches the attention of Ring, who sends Hart a direct message to his home that he is not alone. Hart is subsequently suspended from his position at the transportation authority with jail time very likely for his offense.

That night, as Hart looks over an old road atlas in his home, he catches Ring breaking in. When the police show up moments later, Hart assumes it’s to arrest him for his imminent trial, but they’re actually trying to track down the runaway Ring, who’s third attempt at hacking Santana’s department computer was traced back to his boarding school.  Hart covers for Ring and the police leave, but he makes a critical error when he benignly tells the officers he was waiting for his family to come home. When Santana reviews the police report moments later, she catches this irregularity and orders the police back to Hart’s home to arrest him.

With the police pounding on his door, Hart fires up the racer to hit the road to Free California, but Ring jammed the garage door opener to strong arm Hart into taking him along. Desperate to get out before the police can stop him, Hart agrees to let Ring join him on the escape. The police set up a barricade blocking Hart’s route on the outskirts of Boston, but he outflanks them by taking a long unused hidden tunnel out of the city and the police golf carts can’t catch him.

Word of Hart’s escape in an illegal race car quickly reaches Washington, and Hawkins (played by George Touliatos) is dispatched to oversee how Santana’s bureau handles his capture. Calm and collected with an eerie confidence, Hawkins draws on his old school experience and quickly begins calling the shots over the unprepared Santana. She naively believes that they will easily capture Hart once the car runs out of gas. But Hawkins politely explains that the car will not run out of gas because all old gas stations have underground tanks in which there are two to three inches of gasoline the internal pumps could not reach. With a special pump (which was established in the opening scene of the film) Hart would be able to siphon enough gas for the 3000 mile race to California.

Hawkins tasks Santana’s assistant Morely (played by Ben Gordon) with tracking down former Korean and Vietnam War jet pilot J.G. Williams to convince him to fly again in an attempt at neutralizing Hart.  Morely finds Williams (played by Burgess Meredith) in a modest apartment divorced, depressed and drinking.  A former highly decorated Air Force pilot still stinging from the abuse he received upon his return from Vietnam, Williams’ skepticism is heightened with the words “Your government needs you.” But Morely’s offer to have him fly a jet fighter again makes him put down his whiskey bottle and return to active duty for the first time in over forty years. After restoring an old F-86 jet fighter, Williams takes to the skies and the chase is on.

No spoilers here. I revisited The Last Chase as a result of the faint memory of watching it several times on cable TV around 1982-1983. There was nothing specific to the film or its message that drew me to it recently, just simple curiosity.  The film’s message of “eco-totalitarianism” and the loss of individual freedom was lost on me back then, it was simply a chase film to me.  While some might judge the film today as ham-fisted propaganda (its message would resonate loudly today with a Libertarian audience), as a dystopian film it works to solid effect.  The computers were crude by today’s standards, but they were used to good enough effect in the film because the idea behind what they were capable of (local police camera surveillance, satellite surveillance) are more believable today vs. 1981 because of the extent to which we now have surveillance technology in use. Ironically, even with the dated representation of Santana’s surveillance system, today’s audience would be more accepting of this story element.

Lee Majors vs. Burgess Meredith.  Race car vs. jet fighter.  Liberty vs. totalitarianism.  I’m glad I rediscovered The Last Chase.  The film’s opening scenes are a little clunky, especially with the unnecessary voice over, and there are a couple of scenes where a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary.  But 35 years later I still enjoyed the film and have a greater appreciation for the story and the cast (Diane D’Aquila and George Touliatos are particularly good).  It’s easy to unfairly judge the film on some of the more dated elements, but overall The Last Chase is a fun ride.

 

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Off the Spinner Rack: March 1982

This month I’m taking another trip back to my prime comic collecting years thanks to The Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics.  I’m hoping to make this a monthly trip on Fante’s Inferno because it allows me to look back on some of the issues and storylines that I enjoyed way back when and to give me a new “want list” of missed issues to pick up at this year’s local comic cons.

Daredevil #184

Daredevil 184
“Good Guys Wear Red”
Written and penciled by Frank Miller, inked and colored by Klaus Janson

Dazzler #17

Dazzler 17
“The Angel and the Octopus”
Written by Danny Fingeroth, penciled by Frank Springer, inked by Vince Colletta

Fantastic Four #243

Fantastic Four 243
“Shall Earth Endure?”
Written and drawn by John Byrne

G.I. Joe #1

GI Joe 1
“Operation:Lady Doomsday”
Written by Larry Hama, penciled by Herbe Trimpe, inked by Bob McLeod
“…Hot Potato”
Written by Larry Hama, penciled by Don Perlin, inked by Jack Abel

Iron Man #159

Iron Man 159
“When Strikes Diablo”
Written by Roger McKenzie, penciled by Paul Smith, inked by Terry Austin

Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions #1

Contest of Champions 1
“A Gathering of Heroes”
Written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by John Romita Jr., inked by Pablo Marcos

Power Man & Iron Fist #82

Power Man and Iron Fist 82
“Secret of the Black Tiger”
Written by Mary Jo Duffy, penciled by Denys Cowan, inked by Carl Potts

Star Wars #60

Star Wars 60
“Shira’s Story”
Written by David Michelinie, penciled by Walt Simonson, inked by Tom Palmer

The Uncanny X-Men #158

Uncanny X-Men 158
“The Life That Late I Led…”
Written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Dave Cockrum, inked by Bob Wiacek

What If? #33

What If 33
“What If the Dazzler Had Become the Herald of Galactus”
Written by Danny Fingeroth, penciled by Mike Vosburg, inked by Jon D’Agostino
“What If Iron Man Had Been Trapped in King Arthur’s Time”
Written by Steven Grant, penciled by Don Perlin, inked by Bob Layton

Ten comic books bought in March 1982 for a whopping $7.30 ($17.94 today adjusted for inflation).  I can’t remember a single month in which we bought ten new issues, and I couldn’t imagine buying that many current books today considering how cost prohibitive it would be.  Many of those titles were consistent purchases for us, namely Uncanny X-Men, Star Wars, Fantastic Four (the cover for FF #243 is still one of my favorites), Daredevil and Iron Man (IM #159 was my introduction to the art of the amazing Paul Smith).  Dazzler was most likely purchased because the X-Men’s Angel was on the cover, and there’s no doubt we picked up What If? #33 for the Iron Man trapped in King Arthur’s time story (the storyline originally told in issues #149 and #150 was simply amazing).  G.I. Joe was a chance for me to own a #1 (my first speculative purchase) though I did continue to buy that title for the next year.  Power Man and Iron Fist was new on our monthly buy list, and the back issues of Mary Jo Duffy’s run on that title are now on my “must buy” list at the next comic con I attend.  Contest of Champions #1 was also a favorite of mine that month, though our local comic shop didn’t have the subsequent two issues.  After 34 years I finally have a chance to read them now that I bought the hardcover collection.

Missed Opportunities:

Moon Knight #20 & #21

Moon Knight 20 Moon Knight 21

Doctor Strange #53

Doctor Strange 53

To miss an issue of Moon Knight back then was a rarity for us, but to miss two in one month?  That’s unbelievable.  The covers alone would have been enough for me to plunk down $1.20 for Moon Knight #20 and #21.  It wasn’t until many years after their initial publication that I discovered Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin’s run on Doctor Strange with Roger Stern, and issue #53 is still missing from my collection.  Three more issues I’ll have to pick up at my next convention!

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From My Collection: Finding A Bargain Box Copy of Fantastic Four #51

Fifty years ago today Fantastic Four #51, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic “This Man…This Monster” hit the spinner rack and quickly became one of the most memorable and beloved stories of their incredible run.

I’ve seen many references to “This Man…This Monster” over the years, each with a scan of Kirby and Sinnott’s splash page of the Thing walking the streets of Manhattan in the rain. But regardless of how many times I’ve seen a blurb or article praising FF #51’s story, art, and its place in comic book history, I never actually read the story.

I’ve recently started collecting Marvel Masterworks, including the first volume of the Fantastic Four covering issues #1-10. As much as I enjoy reading the classic Silver Age stories in that format, I find the new coloring a bit “off” and I still very much prefer reading original comic books in their four color glory, which is part of the reason I hadn’t read “This Man…This Monster” until recently. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back in June of 2015 I had attended Special Edition NYC, Reed Expo’s offshoot of the New York Comic Con, which was a smaller convention that is more focused comic books and the creators than NYCC. In spite of the mile long line to get into Pier 94, the crowd was very manageable for that venue. Normally at comic conventions I tend to stay in Artist Alley and spend most of my money on sketches, but his time around I was looking to buy some Bronze Age Marvel and DC Comics. One vendor in particular caught my eye with several tables of long boxes with comics priced from $2 to $7. I was expecting to find books from the 70s and 80s (and there were plenty of those) but as I worked through the boxes, I started to find more than a few Marvel books from the 60s!

And there it was: Fantastic Four #51.

Priced at $2.00

Fantastic Four #51 Cover

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

It had to be a reprint, I thought. But a quick glance of the cover made it clear that I was holding a well read original copy of “This Man…This Monster.” How it was still in the box was a mystery to me considering the crowd gathered at this booth and the low price. Granted it was in very bad shape (it would probably have been graded as a 0.5), the cover was still barely attached by one staple and there was an old Marvel Comics sticker affixed to the back. Coincidentally the sticker was the Kirby/Sinnott drawing of The Thing from the cover of this particular issue. In spite of the condition, I had to have it even if it was falling apart and destined to be a reading copy.

Fantastic Four #51 Splash Page

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

The story begins with a dejected Ben Grimm (The Thing) standing in the rain in the streets of Manhattan, feeling sorry for himself and his present physical appearance. A mysterious stranger invites him into his home, offering Ben a cup of coffee and a sympathetic ear. But all isn’t as it seems. The mysterious host is a frustrated scientist jealous of Reed Richards and has drawn Ben into his home to drug him and test his “duplication apparatus.” He hooks the machine up to Ben and himself, taking on the physical appearance of The Thing while Ben reverts back to his human form.

Fantastic Four #51 page

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

Several days later in the Baxter Building as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) works on a weapon that would take on Galactus, the impostor Thing enters and begins to help Reed with the heavy lifting. But no sooner than he arrives, the real Ben Grimm storms in warning Reed and Sue (the Invisible Girl) that the orange monster in front of them is a fake. Despite the real Ben’s pleas to believe him, Reed and Sue can’t believe that Ben would have reverted back to his human form. Ben storms out leaving the impostor in his place, which could be fatal to Reed.

Fantastic Four #51 panels

Fantastic Four #51 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

No spoilers here. This is a great story with all of the elements of classic 60’s Lee and Kirby and emotional impact on every page. And it wouldn’t be a Kirby FF without a splash page or three that truly showcases his genius. Reading this original copy of Fantastic Four #51 inspired me to find and collect other original issues from Lee and Kirby’s run. I bought my first Lee/Kirby FF a couple of years back during an impromptu visit to the Astro-Zombies comic shop in Albuquerque, NM thinking that would be the the only pre-FF #100 issue I would own. And while I won’t be able to afford a copy of Fantastic Four #1 any time soon, I’ve begun a collection of pre-FF #100 issues (ranging from issues #33 to #93) that numbers twelve and counting for less than $10 each. They may be reading copies, but they’re mine and I still treasure them.

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Off the Spinner Rack: February 1981

This week I made a return trip to The Newsstand at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics to revisit the comics I bought (and missed out on) in February 1981.  Comic book collecting was a big part of my life up to my late teens, and while I can’t remember a time in which my brother and I weren’t buying comic books, it really does amaze me as to how many books we missed out on back then.  So here’s a look back at our purchases 35 years ago this month:

Jonah Hex #48

Jonah Hex 48

“The Vulture Creek Massacre” – written by Michael Fleisher, penciled by Dick Ayers, inked by Tony DeZuniga
“Devil’s Power” – Written by Ted Skimmer, penciled by Ross Andru, inked by Tony DeZuniga

Moon Knight #7

Moon Knight 7

“The Moon Kings” – written by Doug Moench, penciled by Bill Sienkiewicz, inked by Klaus Janson

Rom #18

Rom 18

“And a Child Shall Deceive Them” – written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Al Milgrom

Star Wars #47

Star Wars 47

“Droid World” – Written by Archie Goodwin, penciled by Carmine Infantino, inked by Gene Day

Uncanny X-Men #145

Uncanny X-Men 145

“Kidnapped” – Written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Dave Cockrum, inked by Josef Rubinstein

Five comic books purchased that month (cover dated May 1981) for a total of $2.50 ($6.52 today adjusted for inflation).  Jonah Hex #48 is one of only two issues of that title in our collection (the first was #45), and that purchase was most likely based on Tony DeZuniga’s amazing cover.  I’m not sure why we didn’t stick with the title, but it’s now on my list to hunt for at the next comic con I attend.  Moench and Sinkiewicz’s run on Moon Knight was by far one of my favorites of that era, and by the time the powerful cover for Moon Knight #7 hit the spinner rack that month, we were already hooked on the title.  We had purchased Rom sporadically over the first ten issues of the run, but seeing Rom and the X-Men on the cover of issue #18 drawn by two of my favorite artists (if only Frank Miller and Terry Austin had collaborated more!) made this a must have.  By February 1981 I was probably a bigger fan of the Star Wars comics than the films (that changed once we got cable TV and Star Wars: A New Hope played about 50 times a month), and those books were my introduction to the art of the great Carmine Infantino.  But the Uncanny X-Men was by far my favorite title throughout the 80’s, in part due to Dave Cockrum’s second run on the book which began with issue #145.  While I loved the stories from Claremont, Byrne and Austin’s run, it was Claremont and Cockrum’s stories that got me emotionally invested in the characters.

Missed Comics:

Daredevil #170

Daredevil 170

“The Kingpin Must Die!” – Written and penciled by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson

Iron Man #146

Iron Man 146

“Blacklash – And the Burning” – Written by David Michelinie, penciled by John Romita Jr., inked by Bob Layton

Two more rare misses for titles that were consistent purchases for us back then, though I did recently pick up a copy of Daredevil #170 at a comic con recently.  Iron Man #146 was one of only two issues we missed during the Michelinie/Romita Jr./Layton run.

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Movies For Memorial Day 2015

With Memorial Day coming up on Monday May 25th, I’d like to take this moment to thank all veterans and active members of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice.

The combat film has always been one of my favorite cinematic genres, with Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, and of course Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan ranking highly among my all time favorite films.  Memorial Day Weekend in my home also includes a screening of the amazing Band of Brothers.  

Every year I check the TV listings, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video for the best military themed films and documentaries to watch over the holiday weekend.  As always, Turner Classic Movies has several classics in their lineup this weekend.  Amazon Instant Video has an elaborate selection, but unfortunately few of those titles are available on Amazon Prime (though you can never go wrong with Band of Brothers, The Civil War, and Patton).  Netflix doesn’t have as many feature film options as Amazon Instant Video, but has a good selection of documentaries.  Here are some highlights:

On Turner Classic Movies (all times Eastern):

Saturday 5/23:

6:00 AM – Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
5:30 PM – Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
10:30 PM – Glory (1989)
12:45 AM – The Horse Soldiers (1959)

Sunday 5/24:

6:00 AM – Sahara (1943)
12:00 PM – The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
2:00 PM – Bataan (1943)
6:00 PM – The Steel Helmet (1951)

Monday 5/25:

6:45 AM – The Green Berets (1968)
8:00 PM – Battleground (1949)
10:15 PM – Patton (1970)

Netflix (Streaming):

Wings (1927)
The Longest Day (1962)
Patton (1970)
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
The War: A Ken Burns Film (2007)
The Civil War (1990)
The First World War From Above (2010)
Vietnam in HD (2011)

Amazon Instant Video:

Band of Brothers (2001)*
The Pacific (2010)*
Medal of Honor (2008)*
The War: A Ken Burns Film (2007)*
The Civil War (1990)*
American Sniper (2014)
Lone Survivor (2013)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Gallipoli (1981)
All Quiet On the Western Front (1930)
Sergeant York (1941)
The Fighting 69th (1940)
Patton (1970)*
The Big Red One (1980)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
The Great Escape (1963)
The Longest Day (1962)
We Were Soldiers (2002)
The Green Berets (1968)
Glory (1989)
The Steel Helmet (1951)
* = Available on Amazon Prime

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Off the Spinner Rack: April 1981

This week I decided to take another trip down comic book memory lane via the Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics and look up which comics we had bought (and missed out on) during a particular month of our prime collecting years of the late 70’s to mid 80’s.  Rather than using my usual 30 year benchmark I picked a year at random and decided on a look back at the comics that went on sale in April 1981.  I narrowed it down to the following purchases:

Moon Knight #9
Written by Doug Moench, art by Bill Sienkiewicz

Moon Knight #9

The Uncanny X-Men #147
Written by Chris Claremont, art by Dave Cockrum and Josef Rubinstein

Uncanny X-Men #147

What If #27
Written by Mary Jo Duffy, art by Jerry Bingham and John Stuart

What If #27

Iron Man #148
Written by David Michelinie, art by John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton

Iron Man #148

Star Wars #49
Written by Mike W. Barr, art by Walter Simonson and Tom Palmer

Star Wars #49

Not surprisingly, our purchases (totalling $2.75) were entirely Marvel.  But I am surprised at how few comics we bought off the spinner rack that month.  I wasn’t reading Amazing Spider-Man or Captain America at that point, though those titles and Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man would soon be consistent purchases.  Of the issues listed above, What If? #27 was and still is a particular favorite (see my earlier post revisiting this issue).  Each of these issues were part of memorable runs that I still reach into the old box o’ comics to read time and again, particularly Claremont/Cockrum/Rubinstein’s run on Uncanny X-Men.  I’ll still take these stories over most of the comics published today.

Missed Comics:

Fantastic Four #232
Story and art by John Byrne

Fantastic Four #232

Daredevil #173
Written by Frank Miller, art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Daredevil 173

These two missed issues were a surprise to me.  Byrne’s run on FF and Miller/Janson’s on Daredevil are still favorites of mine from that era, and I’m still not sure why we hadn’t picked up these two issues off the spinner rack back in April 1981 or as back issues over the last 30 odd years (I finally read FF #232 in its original form in IDW’s John Byrne Artist Edition).  They’re now high on my list of books to seek out and buy at the New York based conventions this year, along with several other titles available that month such as Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, New Teen Titans, Jonah Hex and Warlord.

When I cut back significantly on buying comics over the last year, I wondered if that was pretty much the end of collecting for me.  But discovering what I missed out on over the years has lit the fire in me to keep collecting (even if they are primarily back issues), complete runs started way back when, and start a few more along the way.

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Warriors Five (1962)

Warriors Five movie Poster

Release Date: September 28, 1962
Starring: Jack Palance, Giovanna Ralli, Serge Reggiani, Folco Lulli, Venantino Vanantini, Franco Balducci, Miha Baloh
Directed by Leopoldo Savona; Screenplay by Gino De Santis, Ugo Pirro, Leopoldo Savona

One of my favorite genres of cinema has always been the combat film, primarily the films set in World War II such as The Big Red One, Sahara, and Saving Private Ryan.

It started for me back in the late 70’s, when Saturday afternoons would include at least one or two black and white combat films from the 40s and 50s on the local channels here in New York.  Most of them were set in the Pacific, with plots that usually involved a group of grizzly soldiers on a mission or defending their ground against impossible odds.  I must have watched hundreds of those now forgotten films back then, and while I don’t remember most of the titles, I still have a soft spot for the B combat films.

So when I was browsing the selection of films on Amazon Prime this past week, one that stood out was the 1962 World War II film Warrior’s Five starring Jack Palance.  American paratrooper Jack (played by Palance), on a mission to blow up a bridge, has been captured behind enemy lines in German occupied Italy and is held by the Italians in a military prison north of Naples.  He doesn’t crack under their interrogation and is about to be transferred to the Germans (and a more intense methods of interrogation) when they receive word that Italy has signed an unconditional surrender to the Allies.  As the Italian prisoners storm out of the prison, the commandant simply opens the gate and lets Jack walk free.

A group of five Italian prisoners, led by the sticky fingered Sergeant Marzi (Folco Lulli) plan to make their way to Naples and the protection of the Americans.  They ditch their uniforms and hawk a stolen cannon to for a few lire and second hand suits to start their journey.

But despite the armistice, the German army still controls the area.  And as Jack heads to his radio and weapons stash to relay his position to the American army, Marzi and his four Italian cohorts (Alberto, Libero, Conti and Sansone) fight the crowd at the local railroad station and hop a train to Naples and the protection of the Allied soldiers.  Shortly after the the train pulls out of the station, a group of women led by the strong willed and not shy about it Italia (played by Giovanna Ralli) use their charm stop the train in the middle of the countryside and hitch a ride.  It seems like it will be an uneventful journey, until one of the women convinces the conductor to stop the train along a vineyard so the starving passengers can eat the grapes.  As they tear apart a poor family’s vineyard, three armed German soldiers appear.  Despite being armed with machine guns, the scared young German soldiers are overpowered by the mob and killed.

When a squad of German soldiers discovers the dead bodies, they set a trap for the train at the upcoming railway station and arrest all of the passengers.  Marzi anticipates the trap, and the five Italian prisoners and Italia sneak away through a tunnel.  While resting at a stream, they spot one of Jack’s empty ration cans and track him down.  Along their way to the American line they reach a minefield with two dead paratroopers.  Marzi and Alberto brave the minefield to scavenge their supplies, but the fragile Conti has had enough and runs off to his hometown.

Jack, Italia and the remaining four warriors hole up at a nearby farm.  Jack recruits Alberto (and pays Marzi) to help him blow up the Galliano bridge to slow down the German drive toward the allies at Anzio.  But when they learn that Conti’s hometown of Altano is being held hostage by German soldiers hell bent on finding the American behind their lines, even if it means killing innocent local men, Jack, Alberto, Marzi, Libero and Sansone take their guns in an attempt to liberate Altano.

Some versions of the movie poster have a grindhouse quality with actress Giovanna Ralli taking up more space than lead actor Jack Palance, which takes away from the fact that Warriors Five is less an action film than a drama about the effect of World War II on the Italian population.  With a steely eyed leading man (Palance), strong willed leading lady and a small band of vagabonds in a war torn country, this is exactly the type of movie Quentin Tarantino would have remade.  Thankfully he didn’t, because it’s the simplicity of Warrior’s Five that makes this an enjoyable film (as was the original Inglorious Bastards), and a remake wouldn’t have had the grit, only caricature.

Warriors Five isn’t a classic, but the story still packs a punch with the human drama of life in German occupied Italy and the gravity of the warriors’ impromptu mission.  The film’s score is a bit uneven, and at times unable to successfully transition between the dramatic and the lighthearted.  Despite the low budget, director Leopoldo Savona utilizes a strong cast and the Italian countryside to create a hard hitting war drama that balances action with empathy for the disillusioned Italian prisoners of war randomly brought together for a noble cause in their war ravaged homeland.

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Irwin Hasen (1918-2015)

I was saddened by the news of cartoonist Irwin Hasen’s passing at the age of 96 today.  He was best known for co-creating (with Don Edson) the newspaper comic strip Dondi which ran from 1955 to 1986, and for his work on characters like The Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and The Flash during the Golden Age of comic books.  Well into his 90’s he was a fixture at the New York based comic conventions, sketching for fans and sharing stories about his career.  Back in September 2014 Irwin was honored at the Society of Illustrators with a screening of a documentary on his life and career, Irwin: A New York Story by director Dan Makara, and in October 2014 he received an Eisner Award at the New York Comic Con.

The first comic con I ever attended was the 2004 Big Apple Con in New York.  Before the show, I had looked up the guest list and put together a list of sketches and autographs I hoped to acquire.  When I had looked up Irwin’s body of work, I knew that I had to get a sketch of the Golden Age Green Lantern from the artist that drew him back in the 40’s.  Of my entire collection of art over the last decade, Irwin’s drawing of Alan Scott was the first I had ever acquired, and the memory of that moment still stands out.

He was sitting at his table covered with prints of his drawings of Wildcat (which he co-created with writer Bill Finger), The Flash and Wonder Woman.  I asked if he was sketching that day and he said “Sure!  What character do you want?” and quoted his price for a pencil and inked black and white sketch, and the price for one with color.  I requested a black and white drawing of Alan Scott as the Green Lantern and he began drawing him in a classic Golden Age pose, marching forward with his power ring leading the way.

I’ve always been a fan of comic book art, and this convention was the first time I was able to see artists in action drawing their characters, so I was fascinated by the process.  Irwin finished the drawing and looked up to see me smiling like a kid at my first convention sketch.  He paused for a second, smiled, and broke out his markers to color it.  I was about to pay the extra amount for the color, but he waved his hand as if to say “Nah, the color’s on me.”  That’s still my favorite comic con memory.

Irwin Hasen - Green Lantern

 

 

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The Captain America Project #19: Bob McLeod

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

#19: Bob McLeod (The New Mutants, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Action Comics)

The Captain America Project is winding down, and the 19th spot on this jam page was filled during the 2014 New York Comic Con by one of my favorite artists, Bob McLeod.

Captain America - Bob McLeod

I’ve been a fan of his work since Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (The New Mutants) and in addition to his pencils and inks on Marvel and DC titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and Action Comics, his art in The Uncanny X-Men #152 (and that issue’s fantastic cover) still stands out as a favorite of mine in the middle of Dave Cockrum’s second run on the title back in 1981.

So there’s one spot left on the page, and I have one particular artist in mind for the 20th spot.  It’s been over four years since I started The Captain America Project, and I’m looking forward to finally completing it this year.  I’m going to attend three New York based comic conventions in the next several months, so hopefully I’ll have the final spot filled by then and I can finally have this amazing page framed and on my wall.

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Runaway Train (1985)

Runaway Train Movie Poster

Release Date: December 6, 1985
Starring: John Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca DeMornay, John P. Ryan, Kenneth McMillan, T.K. Carter, Kyle T. Heffner
Directed by Andrey Konchalovskiey; Screenplay by Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa

Some movies are meant to be watched during the winter months.  John Carpenter’s classic 1982 horror film The Thing is the first one that comes to mind.  And with a snowstorm working its way through New York last night, I was looking for a film that suited my environment.  One that stuck out on Netflix was the 1985 drama Runaway Train starring Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home), Eric Roberts (Star 80, The Pope of Greenwich Village) and Rebecca DeMornay (Risky Business, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle).  Here’s a film that I vividly remember not seeing when it was released in theaters and subsequently on cable back in the 80’s.  I still don’t understand why I let this movie slip through the cracks since it had the elements of a hard hitting drama and a solid cast that would have been more than enough to get me to screen it at least once back then.  Luckily for me it’s currently available on both Netflix and Amazon Prime, so better late than never.

The story begins at Alaska’s maximum security Stonehaven Prison, where according to assistant warden Ranken (played by John P. Ryan) the average sentence is 22 years.  Ranken has a particularly sadistic streak for hardened inmate Manny Manheim (Voight), keeping him welded shut in his cell for three years after several previous escape attempts.  When Ranken is ordered by a Federal court to allow him out of his cell, Manny makes the most of the opportunity and plans a new escape with his brother Jonah.  Ranken fully expects Manny to make another attempt over the wall, and welcomes the opportunity so he can finally take Manny out permanently.  During a prison boxing match, an inmate attacks Manny with a knife as Ranken stands in the rafters with a guard ready to shoot, but Manny sees through his game and eggs Ranken on to take his best shot.  Jonah is injured defending Manny and ends up in the prison hospital, unable to make the escape.

Fellow inmate and former boxer Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts) helps Manny slip by the guards by hiding him in a laundry cart, and decides to join Manny in his escape.  From the outset, the older, wiser Manny has to deal with the raw, impulsive Buck.  They work their way out the prison through the sewer, but it’s the dead of winter and they have to run several miles to a rail depot in order to hop a train to freedom.  While raiding an employee locker room for warmer clothes, Buck leaves his prison shirt (with inmate number) behind.  While this oversight is more than enough to get Ranken on their tails, they have another twist of fate in store for them.  Manny picks the best looking train of the lot, and they hop on to the rear car to hide.  But as the train departs, the conductor suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving Manny and Buck completely unaware they are on a death ride.

The railroad company’s dispatch office is notified of the runaway train and dispatchers Frank Barstow (Kyle T. Heffner) and Dave Prince (T.K. Carter) attempt to stop the train through their computer system.  But the brakes have burned off and the train, which has just collided with the caboose of an oncoming train, is accelerating toward a chemical plant.  They are ordered by company representative Eddie McDonald (played by Kenneth McMillan) to derail the train, unaware that anyone is on board.  As the train approaches the derailment point, someone on board sounds the horn and the company is forced to get the train back on the main railroad line.  Sara (Rebecca deMornay), a railroad employee, was napping on the train and woke up to realize the conductor had overridden the brake system and they are on course for a collision.  But danger also lurks behind them as Ranken is hot on Manny and Buck’s trail.

No spoilers here.  This is a great movie and deserved the acclaim it received, particularly the Academy Award nominations for Voight (Best Actor) and Roberts (Best Supporting Actor).  Voight brings out his inner Charles Bronson as Manny, and the dynamic between his character and Roberts’ Buck is the glue that binds the action sequences so the film isn’t just a non-stop adrenaline rush.  Manny not only keeps Buck in check from the moment they escape Stonehaven, but also tries to beat some sense into him so he doesn’t get caught later on down the road.  This monologue is the perfect example of the generation gap between them:

The supporting cast also makes the film more than an action movie.  Kenneth McMillan (Ragtime, The Pope of Greenwich Village), one of my favorite character actors of all time, is fun to watch as the stressed out company representative Eddie MacDonald; Rebecca DeMornay’s character Sara is a departure from her more famous roles in Risky Business and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and holds her own against two escaped convicts; but John P. Ryan’s performance as Ranken stole the movie and added a hunter/hunted dynamic to the story that reminds the audience of the danger that is waiting for Manny and Buck even if they make it off the train alive.  Concidentally, the scenes of Ranken giving chase reminded me of the character Kraven the Hunter from The Amazing Spider-Man comic books.

I definitely won’t let another 30 years go by before enjoying Runaway Train again, and will include it on my list of winter films going forward.

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